“TELL ME HONESTLY, Lyrai, do I look well enough like this?” Stirla asked, holding out his arms and turning in the middle of the street. “Is it smart enough? Should I have worn my dress uniform?”
Unused to seeing his friend fret about his appearance, Lyrai tried not to smile too broadly. “You look fine,” he assured the large lieutenant. “It’s only an informal dinner amongst friends.”
“And officers,” Princess Neryth put in unhelpfully. “I heard that Captain Myran has been invited, amongst some others, possibly a general or two. Maybe even the Wing Marshall.”
Stirla tugged on his collar and waved the great men of the Rift Riders aside. “Truly, Lyrai, is this uniform all right? It’s not too shabby?”
Despite feeling a few nerves himself over the men the princess had named as potential dining companions for the night, Lyrai knew they had no bearing on Stirla’s agitation. That was all down to their small and curvy hostess. Whose taller sister played on Lyrai’s own mind frequently enough to have him tugging at his own collar, making sure he was as neat as possible.
“You look fine,” he said again. “And you hate your dress uniform.”
Stirla grunted in agreement; no one liked the dress uniform. Scarlet jacket and white breeches might have looked good from a distance, but around a dinner table it would be too much. Besides, walking through the wet and rainy streets of Nimbys would have had a very unimpressive effect on those same breeches. Far better to stick with their regular uniform of black or brown breeches and a dark blue flying coat.
“I think you both look very smart,” Princess Neryth said, striding confidently alongside them, and since she was dressed identically, she must have been telling the truth. “No officer could find the least fault in either of you.”
Stirla waved off her words again with a casual dismissiveness Lyrai still found amusing. Just because Neryth wasn’t a usual princess, raised to look pretty and make an advantageous marriage, didn’t mean she wasn’t still royal. In fact, Lyrai had met fewer people more suited to rule than this woman. She exuded power and confidence with every breath, yet his friend - a farm boy from Etheria, who was currently fretting because he didn’t think he was good enough to love an earl’s daughter - treated her like any other Rider in his flurry. To him Neryth was normal, but Lady Milluqua Kilpapan was as out of reach as the moon.
Then again, Stirla had been Lyrai’s best friend for almost ten years, and he was the son of the Stratys. Perhaps the big lieutenant was immune to royalty?
The thought reminded him of his own family, and particularly his father. Gods, Lyrai wished he was immune too. It had been three days since he’d walked out of the cathedral and he’d been waiting ever since for the Stratys to launch a fresh attack. So far nothing, but he knew it wouldn’t stay that way for long.
“Here we are.” Stirla stopped below the steps leading up to the Kilpapan mansion’s front door. Even though it had started to rain again, a fine mist that was quickly beading Stirla’s curls since he’d refused to wear a hat, the big man simply stared at the portal that would lead him to the woman he loved.
Shaking his head at his friend’s theatrics, especially when they made the same walk and did an almost identical dance every few days, Lyrai turned to offer his arm to the princess.
Too late, Neryth was already marching up the steps and knocking on the door. “Let’s get out of the rain, shall we?” she said. “I might have learnt to deal with all kinds of weather while crossing the Heighlen, but that doesn’t mean I’ll chose to get soaked for no reason.”
Slapping Stirla supportively on the shoulder, Lyrai jogged up after her and greeted the butler as the door swung wide. “Evening, Hathers, are the ladies at home?”
“Good evening, Highness, lieutenants.” The impeccably trained man bowed first to Neryth before doing the same to the Riders. “The ladies and guests are gathered in the drawing room. Please, allow me to take your things.”
“Good man, Hathers.” Stirla hurriedly shrugged out of his topcoat and shoved it in the butler’s direction, eyes already fixed on the partially open door down the hallway. Laughter and light poured out, drawing Lyrai’s own attention.
It was his turn to hold out his coat without looking because standing in the doorway was a vision. Lady Mhysra Kilpapan in a dress of deep blue velvet, girt in silver that matched the pins holding back her dark curls.
Maegla, he had missed her.
“Good evening, Highness, lieutenants.” She curtsied with a grace he knew had been hard won, smiling at something the princess said before Neryth passed into the room. Stirla almost trampled over her in his eagerness to find Milluqua.
Mhysra didn’t seem to mind; she barely seemed to notice. Her eyes had found Lyrai’s and they stared at each other in the gloom of the hallway. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed Hathers melting back to wherever he kept himself between arriving guests, leaving the pair of them completely alone for the first time in… Lyrai didn’t even know how long. Too long.
They closed the distance between them in two fast strides, her hands landing on his chest, his settling about her waist.
“Cumulo says hello,” she murmured, and he smiled as he kissed her.
~ Next Chapter ~